Burton L. Visotzky

Nathan and Janet Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies

Department: Midrash, Milstein Center, Louis Finkelstein Institute, Interreligious Dialogue

Phone: (212) 678-8989

Email: buvisotzky@jtsa.edu

Building Room: Brush 511

Office Hours: By Appointment

Biography

BA, University of Illinois; EdM, Harvard University; MA, Rabbinical Ordination, PhD, and DHL (hon.), The Jewish Theological Seminary; Life Member, Clare Hall, University of Cambridge

Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky serves as Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at The Jewish Theological Seminary, where he joined the faculty upon his ordination in 1977. Professor Visotzky was a dean of the Graduate School and founding rabbi of the egalitarian Women’s League Seminary Synagogue. He serves as the Louis Stein Director of the Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies at JTS, programming on public policy. Professor Visotzky also directs JTS’s Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue.

Professor Visotzky holds an EdM from Harvard University; and has been visiting faculty at Oxford; Cambridge; and Princeton Universities; and at the Russian State University of the Humanities in Moscow (1994, ‘96, ‘06). He served as Master Visiting Professor of Jewish Studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he met Pope Benedict in 2007, and will return to teach there in Spring 2022. In 2014, Professor Visotzky served as Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum) in Rome, where he met Pope Francis. He has been adjunct faculty at Union Theological Seminary since 1980.

Professor Visotzky has published in America, Europe, and Israel. He is the author of 10 books, editor of seven other volumes, and has authored over 125 articles and reviews. His book, Aphrodite and the Rabbis: How the Jews Adapted Roman Culture to Create Judaism as We Know It, was published in 2016. He co-edited the three-volume, 1,000-page compendium, Judaism: I. History, II. Literature, III. Culture and Modernity, published in 2020-21 by Kohlhammer, as part of their distinguished series: The Religions of Humanity. Visotzky is currently writing for and editing a special issue of The Journal of the Bible and Its Reception, on Midrash (expected 2022).

Professor Visotzky served on the United States Holocaust Museum’s “Committee on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust” (2011-19). He was a founding member of the “Roundtable of Religious and Faith Based Organization Leaders” advising then World Bank President Jim Yong Kim (2015). He was National Co-Chair of Rabbis for Obama 2012; on the steering committee of Rabbis for Biden (2020); and served on the Executive Committees of CancerCare and Kent Affordable Housing. He is a member of the J-Street advisory board.

Professor Visotzky currently serves on the Steering Committee of “The Plan of Action for Religious Leaders … to Prevent Incitement to Atrocity Crimes,” for the United Nations Under-Secretary General for Genocide Prevention. Visotzky also serves on the United Nations Inter-Agency Task-Force’s Multi-Faith Advisory Council. He is a life-member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Professor Visotzky participates in interreligious engagement in places as diverse as Jerusalem; Warsaw; Rome; Vienna; Cairo; Marrakech; Doha; and Abu Dhabi. He was the winner of the 2012 Goldziher Prize, awarded by Merrimack College for work in Jewish-Muslim relations. In 2017, Professor Visotzky joined the board of governors of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations: the official body representing the Jewish people to the Vatican, World Council of Churches, Islam and other international religious denominations. He is a founding officer (2021) of the U.S. “Alliance of Virtue” of Abu Dhabi-based Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah. Visotzky also serves on the “standing committee on strengthening interreligious education” of Religions for Peace, International.

Professor Visotzky is active as a lecturer and scholar-in-residence throughout North and South America, Europe, and Israel. He has been featured on radio, television, and in print. In 1995-1996, he collaborated with Bill Moyers on the ten-part PBS series, “Genesis: A Living Conversation.” He consulted DreamWorks on their 1998 film, “Prince of Egypt.” In 2012, Visotzky worked with Christiane Amanpour on her four-hour mini-series, “Back to the Beginning.”

Professor Visotzky has been named to “The Forward 50” and repeatedly to the Newsweek/Daily Beast list of “The 50 Most Influential Jews in America.”  Married to attorney Sandra Edelman, they live in New York City and Kent, Connecticut.

Grants, Fellowships, and Awards

  • 20102014 Carnegie Corporation of America funding for “Judaism and Islam in America” project
  • Goldziher Prize, 2012

Publications

  • Judaism. 3 vols., co-edited with Michael Tilly, University of Tübingen. Religionen der Menschheit series. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer Buchverlag: 2021.
  • The Changing Face of the American Jewish Family, edited by Leonard Allen Sharzer and Burton L. Visotzky (New York: JTS Press and the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies, 2018).
  • Aphrodite and the Rabbis: How the Jews Adapted Roman Culture to Create Judaism as We Know It, St. Martin’s Press: 2016.
  • Sage Tales: Wisdom and Wonder from the Rabbis of the Talmud. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2011. Paperback: 2014.
  • Reading the Book: Making the Bible a Timeless Text. New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1991. Reprint with new introduction, New York: Schocken, 1996. Reprint, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2005. Reprint, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2010.
  • A Delightful Compendium of Consolation: A Fabulous Tale of Romance, Adventure, and Faith in the Medieval Mediterranean. Teaneck, NJ: Ben Yehuda Press, 2007.
  • Golden Bells and Pomegranates: Studies in Midrash Leviticus RabbahTexte und Studien zum Antiken Judentum series, 94. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2003.
  • From Mesopotamia to Modernity: Ten Introductions to Jewish History and Literature. Coeditor with David Fishman. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999. Russian edition, expanded and revised: Ot Abraama do Sovremennosti: Lektsii po evreiskoi istorii i literature. (From Abraham to Present: Eleven Introductions to Jewish History and Literature). Coeditor with David Fishman. Originally commissioned by the Russian State University of the Humanities Press, published 2002.
  • Midrash Mishle (מדרש משלי). New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1990. 2nd ed. 2002.
  • The Road to Redemption: Lessons from Exodus on Leadership and Community. New York: Crown Publishing, 1998.
  • The Genesis of Ethics. New York: Crown Publishing, 1996. Paperback, New York: Three Rivers Press, 1997. Dutch translation by Iemke Epema: Genesis als ethiek. Baarn, Netherlands: Ten Have, 1997.
  • The Midrash on Proverbs. Yale Judaica Series. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992. Reprint, 1996.
  • Fathers of the World: Essays in Rabbinic and Patristic LiteraturesWissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament series, 80. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1995.

The Changing Face of the American Jewish Family, edited by Leonard Allen Sharzer and Burton L. Visotzky (New York: JTS Press and the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies, 2018).

Research

Dr. Visotzky researches the literature of the early rabbis, particularly their interpretation of scripture and narratives (Midrash Aggadah). He compares these works with the writings of the Church Fathers and works of early Islam. Dr. Visotzky also writes on interreligious dialogue.